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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 7)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:57 December 07, 2022

Ignoring ILO's advice
: Yoon sets Korea's labor standards back decades

In recent days President Yoon Suk-yeol has shown his true colors yet again.

"It's the same as North Korea's nuclear threat," Yoon was quoted as saying at a recent meeting with his aides to discuss countermeasures to the ongoing truckers' strike. "If we bow to illegal actions and violence, the vicious cycle will continue."

Yoon's lumping together of the two problems was an absurd analogy. And the president must know that the reason for the failure to solve them is completely wrong.

The striking truckers cannot be compared to North Korea. Still, the president's remark revealed his hostility to unionists, although the chief executive might limit his "enemies" to whom he regards as "lawbreakers." Now, one can see why his government has not tried to have sincere talks with unionized workers for the almost two-weeklong strike and stuck only to strong-arm tactics.

Negotiations should be a give-and-take process based on a willingness to accept at least part of the other side's demands. Neither side should put forth its eventual goal as a precondition to dialogue. Instead of calling to stop the strike before talking, officials must show there is some room for concession.

However, the Yoon administration refuses to accept any of the union's demands, vowing not to budge even an inch ― like in the current inter-Korean relations.

The government ignores not only unionists but a global labor agency as well. At the request of the Korean truckers, the International Labor Organization (ILO) "immediately intervened" in Korea's labor strike, recommending Seoul to protect the basic labor rights of truckers. Korea is a signatory of the ILO convention, which has the same effect as domestic laws. If the Yoon government turns a deaf ear to the ILO's advice, it itself becomes a "lawbreaker."

And yet, Yoon's economic czar wrote off the ILO's recommendation as a "simple offering of opinions" without disclosing the original document. These officials have no idea how the previous administration had to ratify the ILO convention, yielding to pressure from the EU that cited a bilateral FTA agreement. European countries recognized Korea as an advanced country in labor issues when it finally ratified the convention this past April. Barely eight months have since passed, but Korea is now in danger of regressing decades when it comes to labor rights. The damage will be more substantial if the EU gives economic disadvantages to Korea, calling this country a labor laggard.

Some right-wing media outlets support the conservative president, citing the example of another "advanced country" ― The United States of America.

The U.S. Congress recently showed rare bipartisanship to approve a bill blocking rail workers' industrial actions. Despite some similar economic and political reasons that American leaders cited in pushing the anti-labor law, there were clear differences with Korea. For example, U.S. President Joe Biden, once called "Union Joe" because of his pro-labor stance, made a personal appeal instead of threatening legal punishment. Many politicians also gave "yes" votes on the condition of accepting rail workers' demands for a slightly increased number of paid leave days each year, unlike their Korean counterparts, who refused to intervene.

More importantly, the U.S. is not an advanced country in labor issues, although it is the world's most powerful nation when it comes to the economy, the military, and science. The U.S. unionization rate is almost the lowest among Western capitalist countries, slightly higher than Korea's 10 percent. The CEOs of Big Tech companies, including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, receive up to $200 million (260 billion won) a year, some 3,600 times more than an average Amazon delivery worker who gets slightly more than the legal minimum wage. In contrast, the pay gap between CEOs and average employees in advanced European countries, such as Germany, are in multiples of hundreds.

Like Samsung Electronics had done until the recently, Amazon persistently hampers workers' attempts to form unions. It's little surprise then that the U.S. and Korea are the two industrialized countries with the widest income and wealth gap among their people.

It's apparent which "advanced country" Korea should not benchmark and rather look at the situation from the standpoint of ordinary people ― not political bigwigs or business magnates.

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